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Year : 2016  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 46-48

A commentary on the physiology of human emotions and behavior

Fr Muller Research Center, Fr Muller Charitable Institutions, Mangalore, Karnataka, India

Date of Web Publication1-Nov-2017

Correspondence Address:
D V Muralidhara
Fr Muller Research Center, Fr Muller Charitable Institutions, Mangalore - 575 002, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijny.ijoyppp_22_17

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Emotions and behavior are interesting aspects of neurophysiology, psychological sciences, and human life. It is guided by various factors. The science of human emotions and behavior is well explained while the philosophy that is related to life is so beautifully and subtly brought about in many Indian classic writings. This goes to prove that science behind this aspect of human emotions and behavior was well-known to our ancestors. This is an attempt to bring out the interrelationship between the science and philosophy with an example from Bhagavadgita that may explain the basis of yoga.

Keywords: Behavior, body, emotions, mind, yoga

How to cite this article:
Muralidhara D V. A commentary on the physiology of human emotions and behavior. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol 2016;4:46-8

How to cite this URL:
Muralidhara D V. A commentary on the physiology of human emotions and behavior. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol [serial online] 2016 [cited 2024 Feb 21];4:46-8. Available from: https://www.ijoyppp.org/text.asp?2016/4/2/46/217477

  Introduction Top

Indian philosophy of life is very unique. Philosophy means a principle concerning morality and behavioral conduct which is governed by emotions. Emotion is a psychological and physical reaction, subjectively experienced as strong feelings, many of which prepare the body for immediate action and thus has a major influence on determining human behaviors. Emotions involve cognition, affect, conation, and physical changes that lead to behavioral, autonomic, and hormonal responses.[1] Emotions are complex, transitory, with relatively well-defined beginnings and endings.[2] They are either positive or negative. The physiology of emotion is closely linked to the arousal of the nervous system with various states and strengths of arousal relating to particular emotions. For example, if a person is experiencing fear, a possible behavioral mechanism would be to run away from the fear factor. The nervous system intertwines with other systems in the body to create a specific behavior and thus, brain is the seat of all human emotions and behavior.[3]

The basic principle of human life is honesty, truthfulness, and sincerity which lead to happiness and contentment resulting in a guilt-free living. There are many ways to achieve this as has been advocated by many great men of eminence in many languages and in many ways. Functions of the brain from the science and emotions and behavior which results in mental and physical manifestations contribute to the philosophy. Thus, the two components are inseparable. We can have innumerable examples for this from our daily life. When one considers the relationship between these two, it is very interesting to know that the part of the brain concerned with emotions and other related aspects of behavior are the limbic system and hypothalamus, a small part of the cerebrum in the brain. Several smaller structures in the brain are collectively called limbic system. Emotions include fear, rage, sexual desires, happiness, or pleasant feelings and so on. The behavior of an individual depends on his emotions. Motivation, learning and memory have great bearing on emotions and behavior that differs from one individual to the other. Structures included in the limbic system have such close contacts with each other through nerve fibers carrying information to and from them. The signals are carried through chemicals called neurotransmitters. One such neural connection well-known is Papez circuit connecting certain structures in the limbic system.[1]

The Papez circuit or medial limbic circuit is a neural circuit connecting the hypothalamus to the limbic lobe was the basis for emotional expression and experiences. The Papez circuit goes through the following neural pathway: hippocampal formation → fornix → mammillary bodies → mammillothalamic tract → anterior thalamic nucleus → cingulum → entorhinal cortex → hippocampal formation.[1],[4] Thus, it includes the limbic lobe and its major connections in the forebrain – hypothalamus, amygdala, septum, and the prefrontal cortex. Some of the structures that Papez originally described such as the hippocampus now appear to have little to do with emotional behavior. Recent studies show that it has a more significant role in memory functions than in emotions. Now, the amygdala is thought to play a key role in emotion. Some of the animal studies provide evidence that the cerebellum may also be included in an emotional system of the brain.[5]

Emotion activates several areas of the brain inside the limbic system and varies with emotion.[1],[6] For example, fear activates the amygdala which is the main component for acquisition, storage, and expression of fear. Lesions on the central amygdaloid can lead to disruptions in the behavioral and autonomic emotional responses of fear. Similarly, anger or aggression excites the hypothalamus and amygdala work together to send inhibitory/excitatory impulses to the periaqueductal gray which then carries out usually defensive behaviors. Hence, also happiness stimulates the ventral tegmental areathat works closely with the prefrontal cortex to produce emotions of happiness as they lie upon the same dopamine pathways.[3],[6],[7],[8]

The most salient feature of this complex closed Papez circuit is that the “on-off” mechanism of discharge from this system cannot be predicted and controlled at “will” and the “after discharge” lasts longer. That is, once it gets charged it continues to fire even after the source of stimulus is removed (i.e., after discharge).[1] This we can observe in many of us in our day-to-day behavior when we get emotionally charged. Cinematic expressions in many Indian films may form very good examples.

When one tries to relate this function of the limbic system to day-to-day emotions and behavior of humans, about which I did not know then, I am reminded of what I learnt from my Sanskrit teacher as a high school student. It is about the teaching of Lord Krishna to his disciple Arjuna (Gitopadesha) when he was to fight his own kith and kin in the famous Kurukshetra war. Arjuna was in a state of confusion and was full of emotions not knowing what to do about it and to decide. Krishna “motivates” Arjuna by saying that, for a Kshatriya, war is a philosophy of life and he should follow this philosophy/dharma/principle ignoring who he is fighting against (emotions). That would be the sacred dharma he can follow as a warrior, though he has to fight his own men. This is probably brain washing an individual and helping him settle down and stick to his job by controlling his emotions. He explains with substantiation the characteristics of a “STHITAPRAJNA” who generally do not got deterred by any such feelings or emotions that would take him away from doing his duties (Karmanyevadhikarasthe…). Several aspects of emotions like the desires or temptations for self, the ill effects of anger and so on are beautifully depicted in the form of slokas that speaks in volumes of the eternal truth and beauty of life. The philosophy that one will not have any enemy from outside but they all reside within oneself which are called the “arishadvarga” – kaama, krodha, mada, moha, lobha, and maatsarya – which would disturb emotions and behavior is an excellent principle, if adopted will make life beautiful, peaceful, and meaningful. It may appear wrong to say that they, then did not know the science of brain, but certainly they did know the philosophy of life very well. The philosophy was with a purpose. Moreover, to achieve the state of Sthitaprajna the brain had to be trained. That is what Lord Krishna did and motivated Arjuna. Several examples of such nature can be quoted from many Indian classics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. However, the essence is the same. Take for example, Duryodhana who orders Dushyasana to undress Draupati in the court hall. What a humiliation of the dignity of human life? However, one should also consider the anger, passion for power, the ego, the hatred, and such other ill feelings that were running in Duryodhana's mind (limbic system). As said earlier, he had no control either to stop or start his emotional feelings at will once his brain system was activated. He behaved like an inhuman. The animal instinct had overpowered him. This was dictated by his brain. There are several examples from both clinical and experimental studies to support how an individual will change his behavior when his limbic system does not work properly, or part of it is removed or abnormal like the Kluver-Bucy syndrome.[1] Such stories can go on and on. However, the truth remains the same that is one's philosophy of life is dictated by the brain which again depends on how one trains his brain. The principles of neuronal plasticity, learning and memory and other aspects of neural science have contributed greatly to the better understanding of this human aspect of life. This forms the basic tenet of yoga philosophy also which says that “mind and body” are inseparable. The word “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit root (dhatu) “yuj” meaning bind together. If one can train his body well, he can train his mind well, and if one can train his mind better he can train his body better. Probably, for the ordinary humans like us, the first choice is easier and better, as it requires a lot of commitment to achieve one's philosophy of life through the second option.

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  References Top

Neural basis of instinctual behaviors and emotions. In: Review of Medical Physiology. 21st ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, International Edition; 2003. p. 260-9.  Back to cited text no. 1
Scirst-Daniel L. In: Psychology. 2nd ed. New York: Worth Publishers; 2011. p. 310.  Back to cited text no. 2
Carlson NR. In: Foundations of Physiological Psychology. 7th ed. Boston: Pearson Education; 2008. p. 1-575.  Back to cited text no. 3
Shah A, Jhawar SS, Goel A. Analysis of the anatomy of the Papez circuit and adjoining limbic system by fiber dissection techniques. J Clin Neurosci 2012;19:289-98.  Back to cited text no. 4
Snider RS, Maiti A. Cerebellar contributions to the Papez circuit. J Neurosci Res 1976;2:133-46.  Back to cited text no. 5
Carlson NR. Emotion. In: Physiology of Behavior. 11th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon; 2013. p. 367-400.  Back to cited text no. 6
LeDoux J. Emotional circuits in the brain. Ann Rev Neurosci 2000;23:155-83.  Back to cited text no. 7
LeDoux JE, Iwata J, Cicchetti P, Reis DJ. Different projections of the central amygdaloid nucleus mediate autonomic and behavioral correlates of conditioned fear. J Neurosci 1988;8:2517-29.  Back to cited text no. 8


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